What’s the Worst Incoterm when importing from China?

EXW is considered the worst incoterm for importing from China, as it places significant responsibility on the buyer for logistics, transportation, and risk. The limited seller responsibility and hidden costs make it challenging for inexperienced importers. A clear understanding of terms and responsibilities is crucial to avoid disputes.

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What does Ex Works (EXW) mean?

EXW (Ex Works) is an Incoterm where the seller makes the goods available at their premises or an agreed location. In this arrangement, the buyer assumes the responsibility for transportation, customs procedures, and associated costs once the goods are made available. It places the onus on the buyer to arrange and manage the logistics of the shipment.

When should you use the Ex Works Incoterm?

It's true that with this Incoterm, you're responsible for the entire logistics process, BUT when considering the Ex Works for your shipment, you have greater control over costs and negotiate favorable freight rates.

When you want to take control of your shipment

With the flexibility to choose cost-effective shipping options and select your preferred logistics providers, you have the power to tailor the shipping process to meet your specific requirements.

When you want to develop relationships with logistics service providers

Collaborating on transportation arrangements also strengthens your relationships with suppliers and other logistics providers. By working together, you can improve communication, ensuring better quality control throughout your supply chain.

When you know your way with the customs clearance

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Having direct control over customs clearance procedures and export documentation is another significant benefit. When you manage these processes yourself, you ensure compliance, minimize delays, and reduce the chances of errors.

When you seek transparency and financial control as an importer

As an importer, you gain transparency into the various costs involved at each stage of the importation process. This visibility empowers you to better budget and plan financially, enabling you to make informed decisions that work for you.

When you want a freight forwarder to take care of everything

With the Ex Works Incoterm, you have the flexibility to appoint a reliable freight forwarder to handle the logistics and transportation aspects of your shipment. This option is ideal when you prefer to offload the responsibility of coordinating the entire process to a trusted partner, allowing you to focus on other aspects of your business.

Why is Ex Works considered the worst incoterm to use?

1. Because you will be facing complex logistics and operational challenges

Under an EXW arrangement, the buyer faces several complex logistics and operational challenges, including:

  • Transportation and Shipping: The buyer is responsible for arranging transportation, selecting the mode of transport, finding suitable carriers, negotiating freight rates, and ensuring compliance with shipping regulations.
  • Packaging and Labelling: The buyer must ensure that the goods are properly packaged and labelled for transportation. This involves selecting appropriate packaging materials, protecting fragile items, and adhering to specific packaging requirements for the destination country.
  • Customs and Duties: Dealing with international shipments requires the buyer to handle customs procedures, import/export documentation, and the payment of applicable duties or taxes. Navigating customs regulations and ensuring compliance can be time-consuming and complex, given the varying requirements across different countries.
  • Cargo Insurance: It is crucial for the buyer to arrange appropriate insurance coverage to protect the goods against loss or damage during transit. This involves understanding different types of insurance, assessing risks, selecting reputable insurers, and managing insurance claims if issues arise. 
  • Risk and Liability: With EXW, the buyer assumes most of the risks and liabilities associated with the goods once they leave the seller's premises. This includes the risk of loss, damage, theft, or other operational challenges during transportation. The buyer must have contingency plans in place to mitigate these risks and handle unforeseen events effectively.
  • Time and Cost Management: The buyer needs to effectively manage the time and cost involved in coordinating the logistics process. This includes tracking shipments, ensuring timely delivery, coordinating with carriers, customs officials, and insurers, and managing unexpected delays or disruptions. Efficient management is crucial for cost control and customer satisfaction.
  • Documentation and Record-Keeping: The buyer must maintain accurate records of transactions, contracts, shipping documents, customs paperwork, and insurance documentation. This is necessary for legal compliance, financial reporting, and dispute resolution. Meticulous organization and attention to detail are essential to avoid potential disputes or legal issues in the future.

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2. Because you will be facing more risks of damage or loss during transit

When using the EXW (Ex Works) trade term, where the seller only makes the goods available at their premises, the buyer assumes the maximum responsibility for the transportation process. This includes bearing the risks of damage or loss that may occur during transit. Unlike other trade terms, such as CIF or CIP, which provide more protection for buyers, EXW puts them in a vulnerable position.

It's important to note that opting for an incoterm like FOB, the most commonly used trade term, can significantly reduce the risks associated with transportation. Buyers should carefully consider their options and evaluate the advantages of choosing FOB to ensure a smoother and more secure journey for their goods.


3. Because you will be investing more time and resources in managing the import process

Managing the import process under the EXW trade term demands significant time and resource investment from the buyer. 

With the seller's responsibility ending once the goods are available at their premises, the buyer shoulders the entire burden of importing the goods. This entails various tasks and expenses, including logistics and transportation arrangements, customs clearance procedures, insurance and risk management, communication and coordination efforts, and financial considerations. 

Navigating these complexities requires careful evaluation, expertise, and budgeting. Buyers may benefit from seeking professional assistance, such as customs brokers or freight forwarders, to streamline the process and ensure compliance.

4. Because you will have limited control over customs clearance

As a buyer, not having direct control over customs clearance can lead to challenges in ensuring compliance, potential delays, and effective communication with customs authorities. To overcome these difficulties, it is recommended to engage a customs broker or freight forwarder.

What is the best Incoterm generally?

In international trade, selecting the appropriate Incoterm is crucial for defining the responsibilities and costs between the buyer and the seller. Among the various Incoterms, Free on Board (FOB) holds a prominent position due to its many advantages and widespread usage. This article will delve into the reasons why the FOB Incoterm is often considered the best choice for many importers and exporters.

Clear Division of Responsibilities

One of the key advantages of the FOB Incoterm is its clear division of responsibilities between the buyer and the seller. Under FOB, the seller assumes responsibility for delivering the goods to the port of shipment, arranging export clearance, and loading the goods onto the vessel. Once the goods are loaded and cleared for export, the buyer takes over the responsibility, including transportation, insurance, and any costs or risks associated with the goods.

Flexibility in Shipping Arrangements

FOB provides flexibility in shipping arrangements, allowing the buyer to choose the most suitable carrier and shipping method. Since the buyer assumes responsibility once the goods are loaded onto the vessel, they have the freedom to negotiate favorable shipping terms and select the most cost-effective and efficient transportation options.

Cost Control for Buyers

The FOB Incoterm empowers buyers to have better control over costs throughout the transportation process. By taking charge of the shipment after loading, buyers can leverage their own network and negotiate favorable rates with carriers, freight forwarders, and insurance providers. This allows them to optimize costs and potentially secure better deals, ultimately leading to increased competitiveness and profitability.

Reduced Risk for Sellers

For sellers, the FOB Incoterm minimizes risk and exposure by clearly defining their obligations. Once the goods are loaded onto the vessel and export clearance is completed, the seller's responsibility diminishes significantly. This reduces the likelihood of incurring additional costs or liabilities during transportation, as the buyer assumes responsibility for any risks or damages that may occur.

Widespread Acceptance and Industry Standard

The FOB Incoterm enjoys widespread acceptance and is considered an industry-standard in international trade. It is recognized and used by businesses, shipping companies, and customs authorities worldwide. Its well-established nature makes it easier for parties involved in the transaction to understand and execute their respective obligations, leading to smoother operations and reduced potential for disputes.


The FOB Incoterm offers numerous benefits that make it a preferred choice for many importers and exporters. Its clear division of responsibilities, flexibility in shipping arrangements, cost control for buyers, reduced risk for sellers, and widespread acceptance make it a robust and reliable option in international trade. By selecting FOB, businesses can streamline their operations, reduce uncertainties, and foster more efficient and profitable global trade transactions.

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